From Publishers Weekly
Accompanied by a lengthy essay, "A Few Notes on the Culture" (1997), these seven arresting short stories and the disturbing novella that provides the title for Banks's latest SF collection all date from 1984–1987, the period of his bizarre mainstream novel The Wasp Factory
and the extravagant genre novel Consider Phlebas,
both cult-inspiring works. In short pieces like "Road of Skulls" and "Piece," Banks turns convention upside down and inside out, with shocker-endings that linger like smoke rising from a crematorium. "Odd Attachment" traces a marooned spaceman and his AI suit on a tortuous survival trek across an uninhabited planet, illustrating Banks's preoccupation with the "self-generative belief system" that applies to both humans and AIs in the Culture, the setting for the title story and some of his SF novels. Viewing Earth and Homo sapiens
through the eyes of the Culture, a galactic group-civilization spawned by a handful of humanoid species several thousand years in the past, allows Banks to speculate on his dearest philosophical topics: the preferability of anarchy in space, denunciation of market economies as "synthetic evil," never-ending education for both humans and machines, and genetic manipulation. For all their wrenching images and sadistic twists, Banks's unsettling tales bestow a grim gift, the ability to see ourselves as others might see us.
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'Banks is a phenomenon: the wildly successful, fearlessly creative author of brilliant and disturbing non-genre novels, he's equally at home writing pure science fiction of a peculiarly gnarly energy and elegance' William Gibson 'Few of us have been exposed to a talent so manifest and of such extraordinary breadth' The New York Review of Science Fiction 'Unfailing inventiveness and wit' Guardian